Dr W Large


Art of the Modern Age

10 February 2007



Kantian Prolegomena to an Analytic Aesthetics



Baumgarten is decisive to the beginning of philosophical aesthetics is the linking of experience of the beautiful with knowledge gained through the senses, and more specifically through the imagination.


For Kant what is decisive is the idea of an 'aesthetic Subject'.


His aesthetics is thus not a theory of art but an anthropology of aesthetic experience and a transcendental analysis of the judgement that translates that experience into discourse.



Following Baeumler, we have to see that aesthetics is the very development of the subjective inwardness which is no longer reducible to any kind of conceptuality - since taste is a feeling (individuality as a feeling rather than as concept).


Philonenko - that aesthetics is an experience of 'interhuman communication and individuality'



There are 3 fundamental faculties for Kant


  1. Knowledge
  1. Desire
  1. Pleasure


Each faculty has it own a priori principles which it is up to philosophy to discover - categories and pure intuition for knowledge, and the moral law for desire. The aim of CPJ is to discover whether pleasure has its own a priori principles. This problem is linked to question of individuality and communicability. In both knowledge and morality, everything singular is mediated by the universal concept - and it is this mediation which is the basis of communication (what I mean by tree is the same as what you mean by tree, what I mean by stealing is the same as what you mean by stealing and so on). What is peculiar about the CPJ is that he wants to show a) that aesthetic judgement are singular or individual 2) but at the same time they are intersubjective. The feeling is both very personal and at the same time something that I share with others - Kant question is what is the ground for this sharing - why can I share my aesthetic judgements when they are not conceptual?


The problem for Kant is that the feeling of pleasure seems to be intensely subjective, so how can it have any intersubjective validity?


This is what the four moments of the analytic of beautiful are supposed to prove.



Practical judgements have an interest in the existence of object (where we speak of the pathological - sensation - agreeable, or the moral)


We can see also why this must be only concerned with the formal aspects of the object - for if I were concerned about the material, then it would be a better of sensations - whereas aesthetic judgements are concerned with representations. The former is passive and the latter is active.


Why are judgements universal - first of all because they have nothing to do with personal preference or idiosyncrasy. It is not that I like the colour blue and you like the colour green, which has to do with sensations. But because aesthetics is representations without concepts, then the universality cannot be conceptual. If it were conceptual then it would have nothing at all to do with feelings, but with the understanding, and then we really could have a rule book of aesthetics.


The judgement of taste has nothing at all to do with an object, but the relation between a subject and an object - how do I feel about this object, my representation of this object to myself, without recourse to any objective properties.





Not objective properties, but properties of the object as it is represented in the mind (inner object and not external). The universality has nothing at all to do with the object, but with the subject - the fact that subjects can share the same feeling.


A work of art can be judged conceptually (this is what happens in the history of art for example) or it can be judged aesthetically, but one cannot deduce the one from the other.


For Kant the judgement precedes the feeling (the fact that I judge that everyone else should share by aesthetic pleasure) -thus the feeling of pleasure is the same as communicability. In other places, they appear to be two interdependent phases.



In aesthetics the object has the form of finality, but not the conceptual content of a determinate end - the purpose of art is self contained in the subjective feeling of pleasure which is universally communicable. If something pleases be in terms of a determinate end then it is no longer aesthetic but moral or agreeable.


What is finality without end  - it is the harmonious resonance of our cognitive faculties and it is this that gives us pleasure.



But do we have to accept that this harmony must be understood as a finality with representation of an end?


The necessity accompanying taste cannot be conceptual or objective.  Rather it is exemplary - universal rule without conceptuality.



The universal communicability of the judgement of taste is only regulative and not determinative. It is an ideal horizon - that is I make a judgement that everyone should agree with my judgement and not that every will agree in fact, since there is no objective rule to determine assent.


Thus the aesthetic judgement is between the purely private sensation and the purely objective logical judgement. What is crucial here is the harmony between the faculties.


Knowledge is the unity of sensation and imagination - imagination is the mediator between the understanding and sensibility through its temporal structuring of sensation - I already apprehend sensations in a temporal form - the imagination is the bridge between sensations and the understanding through the schematism.



In aesthetic judgement, imagination also brings the understanding and imagination into harmony but not through any kind of conceptual determination. The harmony is there 'indeterminate'. What we experience is a state rather than an activity, which Kant calls a 'play'.


Aesthetic reflection is only ever related to the form of an object and never its matter (sensation is always private for Kant). But what is form - from the first critique we can say form is pure sensation which is time and space. But if this were the same as the pure forms of experience, then every perception would be the experience of the beautiful.



The experience of the beautiful is always the encounter with something singular in its form, but it can't be a private sensation. How can it both be singular and universal (not private), but not just be the pure forms of experience? It would have to be the singular experience of pure forms - how this object instantiates space and time, rather than the general forms of space and time as described by mathematics for example. This is why aesthetics is not a brute feeling but it first of all a judging which produces the feeling of disinterested pleasure.


This is why Kant's aesthetics is essential a visual one.



It is the harmony of the faculties which allow the aesthetic judgement to be both singular and universal, necessary and subjective. It is universal because I can ascribe the harmony of the faculties to every human being (though of course empirical this might not occur - it is only regulative. And is singular and subjective because it bears only on this object in front of me and my representations - I do not know whether a similar object will produce the same effect or even the same object. - thus it is an 'individual concrete encounter'. But the possibility of the harmony of the faculties is generic - it is a priori grounded in the possibility of the free play of the faculties (this is a transcendental argument) and thus is universally communicable because it makes sense to every human being, though they might not agree with me because it is not conceptual.


It demonstrates the subjective conditions of all knowledge  - for anything to be known it must mean something for a subject and it must be intersubjective - this is the 'what is' for every human being, prior to any kind of conceptual knowledge. - if the representational state of human beings were not communicable then no knowledge would be possible, let alone aesthetic claims.



In terms of Kant's schematism, we might say that the former is only possible because of the accord between the imagination and the understanding.


But why give this accord a transcendental basis - why not just claim that it is empirical, biological for example.



So for Hume, aesthetics is more normative, whereas for Kant it is the communication of a generalised feeling which is the basis of our humanity. It is utterly autonomous for Kant - nothing from the outside can determine by aesthetic feeling (no knowledge or concept).


Natural Beauty and Artificial Beauty



That Kant's theory of beauty is a 'transcendental anthropology' can be seen in the distinction between natural and artificial beauty.


Beauty hasn't got to with a certain class of objects for Kant, but the representation of objects as such. The predicate beauty therefore is not reducible to any properties of an object. It is not an object represented, rather it is object that is maintained in the state of representation (as though I keep the representation within myself, and don't refer it to anything outside of myself).



What Kant is defining is not a certain type of object, but the aesthetic relation and to distinguish this from other possible relations to an object.



It is the 'receptive attitude' towards the world which interest Kant, and not properties of an object that would determine in advance whether it was aesthetic or not.


However, in the latter part of the analytic of the beauty, it does appear that Kant makes a difference between types of object, when he makes the distinction between natural and artificial beauty, and seems to valorise the former over the latter.


Where is the experience of natural objects purer - because any object that is made can be traced back to the intention of the artist, and thus we can speak of an external cause - I cannot be completely disinterested in the existence of the object.





Because nature does not admit of final cause, and thus conceptual ends, then we will not be tempted to let our understanding determine our imagination, whereas the opposite is the case with made objects, where we have to assume that there was an intention when the artist made it. 'The work exists because someone desired it.' This is the case even if we don't know what the specific end is, such as a pre-historic artefact, we have to assume in this case that it must have an end.


But couldn't we separate ourselves from this intention?



However the distinction becomes more complex in Kant, because it is not just artificial products that are seen as having determinate ends, but also natural ones - horses and human beings. And yet even a further complication is that Kant is willing to say that even human artefacts can be natural - as in wallpaper. It seems then that the determinate distinction here is between representational and non-representational art.



It seems, therefore, that the only art that is in conformity with pure aesthetic judgement is decorative art. Anything that is representational betrays and end or purpose. But what is the difference between decorative art and the decorations that previously Kant argued had merely to do with the charm of an artwork, and should be separate from any aesthetic judgement (like the frame of a painting)?


The only solution is to separate the production of art from intention and this is what Kant does through the idea of genius, and also is what is continued by romanticism. That the end of art is itself  - 'autotelic'.


Genius and Taste



Genius solves the problem of pure aesthetic judgement by erasing the intentionality of the artist. Thus the artist is the origin of the artwork, but he himself does not the rules through which the art is produced. He is Blanchot would say only the first reader.



What is at the heart of genius is the productive imagination which is not limited to merely repeating empirical sensations and therefore act as the bridge between sensation and the understanding. This is why the products of the productive imagination are beyond conceptuality. It induces thought, but no thought as such would be able to capture it or be able to put into words.



It is because the genius is not conscious of the ends of her work when she produces it




that it is the same as natural beauty though not exactly the same, since we know that it is still the product of the human hand.


The paradox for Kant is that the work of Genius must be both original and also act as an exemplar, both to inspire other geniuses and at the same time to act as standard against those works of art that are not genius. It must be both original and communicable.



CPJ has an intentionalist view of the work of art - there can be no pure aesthetic judgement of the work of art because it is always produce by someone and thus has an end or a purpose, and thus cannot be a finality without end.


The beauty of the artistic object is not self-sufficient because we always sense the hand (and thus the intention) of its human creator.



It does not seem possible to separate the conceptual element from the experience of art as Kant might have believed he could - of course I have to have a direct sensuous experience of the artwork if I want to appreciate, but that does not mean that I don't have any knowledge of it at all, whether in terms of reception of production, and that my appreciation of that art work would not improve because of this knowledge.


It is this complete opposition between conceptual judgement and aesthetic experience which is not justifiable, and even Kant cannot justify it.



The difficulty of Kant's aesthetics comes from the idea that one can have a finality without a specific end (it is not even believable perhaps in terms of nature)


The work of art in Kant and Romanticism



In what sense can we say that Kant is a romantic, if we define romanticism as the transcendental unity of nature and art?



The biggest difference between them is that Kant's ideas always tied imagination to sensibility, whereas the romantics linked imagination to the ideas of reason.



For the romantics the imaging function of language creates its own referent.



It is the idea of the autonomy of art which is really taken up by the romantics. The difference between them however, is that for Kant it is a relation to the object, whereas for the romantics it is statement about the object itself: 'it expresses a relation between a representation and a subject, and not between a representation and an object.'


Aesthetics meta-aesthetics and theory of art



Kant's aesthetics is a meta-aesthetics - that is it has to with aesthetic judgement and not with objects and this belongs to reflective judgement as opposed to determinative judgement.



Reflective judgements don't increase our knowledge at all - it is simply about the relations between our representations and our different faculties.


For this reason we can't call aesthetic judgement cognitive since they do not supply any knowledge of the object. Thus does not mean that it is irrational, but is based on rational principle which is the possibility of it being universally communicable. But it is the communication of feeling not of a proposition - and not of proposition about feeling either - here language is a means, but it does not express the what the feeling is.



Even though aesthetics judgements are not about objects in the cognitive sense, they are always about singular objects - that is the art work has to be directly accessible. I do not need to experience the Alps in order to understand how they were formed, but I can't say that they are beautiful unless I experience them for myself.



One cannot give a rule in order to which one might say something is beautiful, because this implies that aesthetic judgement are cognitive - i.e. that one could give a list of properties that would always make some things beautiful and others not.


What is at stake for Kant is not 'types of objects' but 'type of mental attitude'. Thus one can look at the same object with a difference attitude, once in terms of cognition and once in terms of aesthetics, and one can even do so in relation to art, especially when we are thinking about



We can break this down to 3 levels for Kant


  1. Pure aesthetic judgements
  1. aesthetic-normative judgements


  1. cognitive judgements



It might be case that pure aesthetic judgements are the most simply aesthetics judgement, and that in every case that we make a judgement about art, it is always a mixture of the two, feeling and evaluation. It is also the case that my feeling towards an object might lead me to conceptual evaluation.



Doesn't my openness to natural beauty require a broadening of my conceptual possibilities - think of the Japanese and Chinese appreciation of the nature as opposed to the Western sensibility.


We should not confuse the use of concepts with objective knowledge here - the concept pick out what is subjectively attractive, not some objective property of objects.